An inevitable part of separation or divorce when you have kids is that you will almost certainly see them less than you did before. You are always going to miss them. I have been separated from my eldest son’s mum for almost 10 years. I still miss him when he isn’t here, I might see something on TV he likes or I hear a piece of music that he listens too. What I can tell you is that while it might never change, it does and will get easier. In fact, you might start to relish and look forward to your own time. Let’s dive in – How To Cope With Not Seeing Your Child Every Day.
At first, it’s a punch to the gut. You are used to hearing and seeing most things about their day and now days will go by without knowing anything.
I have been through it twice now and I have found ways to keep myself going and keep my mind occupied. In fact I think I have come through a better person and a better parent.
Of course, my advice is very dependant on your situation. How old your kids are, your relationship with your ex and your current living situation, you need to tailor my advice to you. If this is on the horizon then it’s good to be prepared for what’s coming. Are you newly separated? Then read on and take some action today. If you are not new to this game like me then there is still something to be learned.
Be happy in your own company
Unless you are jumping straight into another relationship you are going to be spending lots of time with yourself. On your own. Billy no mates.
You might only see other living people in the flesh when you are at work. A whole weekend might go by with just you and your thoughts for company.
Embrace it. No-one to fight over the TV with, no waiting for the shower. Taking a shit with the door open is a truly liberating experience.
I am being serious. It’s a great time to find out who you are. We define ourselves by the situations and people we surround ourselves with. If you have been in a relationship for a while then you are probably not the same person that went into the relationship. Who are you now and who do you want to be in the future?
Work out what you want from your life, what your goals are, who you want to be. Sounds like big scary stuff and it will take a while, you won’t have answers instantly. Having a vision about where you want to be in 5 years, and more importantly who you need be in order to get there can give real clarity to your next steps.
Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.Marcus Aurelius
Don’t spend this time wallowing in your own self-pity. Well, maybe wallow a little if it’s still very raw. Use the time when you don’t have your kids to do what you want to do.
If I didn’t sleep, didn’t work and didn’t have family and friends I still wouldn’t have enough time to read all the things I want, watch all the things I want, go to the places I want to see. There is so much to see and do in this lifetime. Don’t squander the biggest asset you have – your time.
You will never get your time back. Once it’s spent it’s gone. No amount of money in the world can change that. Don’t let yourself get to a point where you regret squandering your time. Use the time you have to grow into the person you want to be, do the things you always wanted to do.
The ability to transform a negative, difficult experience into a productive and fulfilling one is a skill that will always serve you well.
Mark Manson recently wrote:
You don’t build psychological resilience by feeling good all the time. You build psychological resilience by getting better at feeling bad.
Smooth seas dont make good sailors.
However you want to say it, there is lots of evidence that tells us that periods of adversity will make us stronger, better people.
- Do some soul searching – where do you want to be in 5 years and who do you need to be to get there?
- Start that journey of transformation and growth – Read, listen to podcasts
- Get your shit in order – sort you finances out, get fit, eat healthily
- Do things you have always wanted to do, start a new hobby
- Don’t squander and waste time, you will never get it back
Be present and give 110%
When you do have contact with your kids be present. Your focus and attention should be on them and the things you are doing.
Put your phone away, plan things to do in advance, plan meals in advance, do the shopping. Don’t fill your precious time with them with errands and busywork. That stuff will still be there when they are gone. Also, don’t be Superdad. No-one likes Superdad. He takes the kids to Disneyland every weekend, never cooks at home and never says no. Superdad’s life is also not based in reality and isn’t sustainable.
Superdad is a jerk.
Ultimately Superdad is afraid he might actually need to talk to and connect with his children. Superdad does what he does to make his children like him because he is fearful they won’t like the real person behind the grand gestures. He is also trying to out-do the other parent. No child wants their parents to one-up each other.
Your children don’t want to be taken out and treated all of the time. They would be happy with a film night and popcorn followed by a bedtime story. Take them out in your neighbourhood, take them on their bikes or scooters, a picnic in your local park. If your kids have the mental imagery of where you live it can give you context and things to talk about over the phone.
Your job as a parent is to prepare your children for adult life. Life isn’t full of fun things all the time. If it was those fun things would become boring. Balance is the key here. Plan weekends away for special occasions, buy the odd gift because you were thinking of them but have a good grounding in reality. Life is also about making sure that you have clean clothes, healthy food on the table, clean house and having to save before being able to afford the weekend away. Shielding them from real life is not setting them up to succeed.
Finally, if you give your all to them when they are with you, there is a comfort that comes when they are not when you know that you have done everything in your power to make the times when you are together as good as they could have been.
Building and strengthening your bonds when you are together brings confidence in your relationships when you are not.
- Don’t fill your time together with jobs but don’t build a false picture of real life. Cooking, washing, cleaning all needs to be done. Get them to help. It’s time spent together and important life skills. There is a balance between non-realistic fun-time dad and boring jobs list dad.
- Don’t be Superdad. Spend time doing nothing with your kids, play in the garden and do regular normal things with them. Connect and bond with them over the things they like to do. If you don’t know what they would like to do then find out!
- Make sure they know that they are your priority. Keep your phone at arms length and give them your attention.
- Plan and spend your time with them, giving them your all. Giving 110% when they are with you will bring comfort to you when they are not. It’s not easy but guess what? Being a single parent isn’t easy.
Get out and see people
Try to spend time outside of your home environment with friends and family. These relationships can sometimes take a back seat when you are in a kids and family mindset.
Now is the perfect opportunity to reach out and spend time with others. I found that making a weekly routine worked well – it gives something to look forward too. For me, that means every Wednesday I catch up with one of my good buddies. Plan holidays with your friends, get things on the calendar that allow you to look further ahead than the next week or next period of contact. Give yourself some perspective.
If you are struggling to find people who are free then try to find ways to meet new people. Remember those new hobbies you now have the time to pursue? Or maybe you have existing ones? Apps like meetup list local gatherings for a huge variety of things, everything from board games to movie and book clubs to spirituality and meditation.
It can feel daunting, out there, with other people. Ultimately you have nothing to lose by trying out new experiences.
Wallowing at home is not putting yourself in the best place for when your children are next with you. Get out, broaden your horizons, meet new people, experience new things. Time will fly by and before you know it your kids are with you again.
Start saying “Yes!” to things you might have turned down previously
You never know, one of those yeses might lead you somewhere you never expected. Like when I met Nicky. I said yes to a friend at work and he ended up introducing me to his sister. When I was least expecting or looking for it.
- Don’t wallow at home. Make regular plans to see people and get out there. It sounds cliched to talk about there being a big wide world to experience but it will help. Time will pass quicker, you will be in a better place for the next time your kids come with stories to tell them about what you have been up to.
- Kill two birds with one stone (not a new hobby) by meeting new people at the places where they do the new exciting things you are going to try.
- Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is good for your mental health and reduces anxiety.
- Get things to look forward to on your calendar.
The way in which you communicate with your kids when they arent with you is going to very much depend on their age. But before we look at that, lets set some ground rules.
Don’t speak negatively of the other parent
Don’t do it.
This is a non-negotiable. At no point should you ever speak about the other parent in a negative way. It’s so tempting. I know.
Let be clear, its quite simple:
Your kid does not feel the same way about their other parent as your do.
That fact is only ever going to mean it will damage your relationship more than it will with the other parent.
The other parent is not a message relay
At some point, you were probably used to being told lots of info about your offspring. Doctors appointments, school meetings, play dates. You probably got a download of the day’s events every evening.
You should not expect this to continue. And its going to suck.
Now that you are separated you should be getting this information for yourself. In my mind, this gives you the perfect opportunity to build relationships with the school and other key people like doctors, dentists etc.
Get involved with your kid’s life. Go to parents evening, assemblies and other events at school. Try and organise contact so you can collect or drop off at school once or twice a week. Make an appointment with the doctor to go over and keep updated on any ongoing health care issues.
This is the basic foundation of being an involved parent.
Now you might currently have an amicable relationship with your ex which means that you do get some more regular updates. That’s great. And it will help with the transition. I do urge caution, however, don’t come to rely on this. Situations change all the time and its only right that your ex has some space from you, just as you now want and need space.
You are going to have to get used to not hearing about the daily routine updates. It does suck. There isn’t any point in me sugar-coating it. But it is something you get used to.
The hard truth is that most of the time, day-to-day your kids are probably quite happy getting on with life just fine without you there.
Sure, they think of you and they need your love and guidance. Most of the time they are just getting on with it. Think about the times when they are with you. I would wager they don’t sit around all day waiting to go back. The same is true when they are away.
I’m not trying to downplay a fathers (or mothers!) role here, in fact, I have lots of thoughts on the bias of the family courts and have been through it myself, fighting to prove my own worth and my own rights to be an active part of my youngest sons life.
If they know they have your love they are just going to be getting on with life. And that’s a good thing.
Your perception could be that they don’t love you and are much happier with the other parent. Or you could be grateful that they are happy, that they are just getting on with life. Be comforted by the knowledge that they are content and are able to enjoy just being a kid, safe in the knowledge they have the love and support of both of their parents.
OK. Back to contacting your kids.
If your kids don’t have their own phone then try and contact through the other parent’s phone. A couple of times a week phone to catch up. They don’t need to be hour-long chats. Just check-in, see how things are going and let them know you are thinking of them.
If they do have their own phone then obviously you can use that. At this point, you could start to text too. But don’t overdo it. You might be missing them but don’t start texting 17 times a day. Your child needs you, they don’t need a needy you.
You could set up an email account for them and send emails to it when you are missing them. Just talking about what’s been going on with you. It’s a great way to feel connected to them when they aren’t with you. It’s also a really nice milestone birthday present. Keep those thoughts about the other parent in check here though, it’s an easy trap to fall into when you know that email won’t be read for years to come.
For extra brownie points you could write them an actual letter, if you remember how that whole system works.
With all the contact points above don’t bombard them with texts and messages. Your kids should know that you love them by your actions and not by the emoji stream you send them daily.
- Keeping in contact with your kids can be a real comfort when you aren’t with them.
- Keep it age-appropriate.
- If you are contacting through your ex’s phone then be respectful of their space too. A set time and day can work but be prepared to be flexible when life takes over and they don’t answer.
- An email account that is handed over at a milestone birthday is a great way to make you feel connected.
- Keep contact points to every few days.
None of this is easy. Your new normal, the one where you don’t see your kids every day, where you don’t even hear about them every day, is hard to get used too. It’s not going to get any easier if you roll around your new home all day and night. Keeping yourself busy, both inside and outside of your house is critical to better mental health. Be the best that you can be for when your kids do turn up. Teach them about life, about what it means to be a good father.
I have found no greater peace, no greater comfort for when times got tough, that I know I put everything into the times when my kids are with me. They don’t get an easy ride, they don’t get a weekend Dad. I show up, I’m present and I make sure they know that they are my priority.
Get your shit in order, get your life together. For them.